The Travel Writing Tribe

Journeys in Search of a Genre

May 2021 9781787384705 360pp
November 2022 9781787388284 360pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Where can travel writing go in the twenty-first century? Author and lifelong travel writing aficionado Tim Hannigan sets out in search of this most venerable of genres, hunting down its legendary practitioners and confronting its greatest controversies. Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up, and just where does the frontier between fact and fiction lie? What actually is travel writing, and is it just a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writing’s queasy colonial connections?

Travelling from Monaco to Eton, from wintry Scotland to sun-scorched Greek hillsides, Hannigan swills beer with the indomitable Dervla Murphy, sips tea with the doyen of British explorers, delves into the diaries of Wilfred Thesiger and Patrick Leigh Fermor, and gains unexpected insights from Colin Thubron, Samanth Subramanian, Kapka Kassabova, William Dalrymple and many others. But along the way he realises how much is at stake: can his own love of travel writing survive this journey?

The Travel Writing Tribe tackles head on the fierce critical debates usually confined to strictly academic discussions of the genre. This highly original book compels readers and travellers of all kinds to think about travel writing in new ways.

Table of contents



1. The Long White Track
2. Naming Fathers
3. A Letter to the Editor
4. In Berlin


5. Belated Travellers
6. The Travel Writer Who Disappeared
7. A Class of Their Own
8. Lucky Man
9. The Travellee-Reader
10. Beside the Blackwater
11. Flying Pigs

12. Collateral Damage
13. To the East
14. On the Couch
15. Journalism Between Equals
16. Letting the Scholar Speak
17. Upstream, Downstream
18. Winterreise I
19. Winterreise II
Epilogue: The Death of the Author

Afterword: Travel Writing in the Age of Covid-19
Select Bibliography


A Financial Times Travel Book of the Year 2021

‘The travel industry might be beginning to emerge from crisis, but travel writing still finds itself on shaky ground, wracked with guilt over carbon emissions and the echoes of colonialism, and with its relevancy (and sales) increasingly challenged by digital alternatives. Hannigan explores the past and searches for a future for the genre, interviewing celebrated practitioners, including Dervla Murphy and William Dalrymple.’ — Financial Times (Travel Book of the Year 2021)

‘Travel writing used to be dominated by Old Etonians with colonialist tendencies; but [Tim Hannigan’s] well-researched critique shows that the ‘travellees’ are writing back.’ — The Guardian

‘[A] deft piece of genre-hopping.’ — The Telegraph

‘A timely look at the genre – why we travel, and why and how we write about it.’ — Irish Independent

‘An excellent and thought-provoking book. […] what could have been a scholarly theoretical discourse is thoroughly enlivened by Tim Hannigan’s decision to turn it into a travel odyssey.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘The pleasure of The Travel Writing Tribe comes from Hannigan’s diligent efforts to get to the bottom of it all — setting off on trains and planes, sometimes roughing it at hostels, on mini-adventures to meet travel writers and record interviews. The result is, effectively, a “travel book” about “writing about travel”.’ — The Critic

‘Taking the genre back to its origins … Hannigan turns the concept on its head in his quest to hunt out travel writers themselves.’ — Geographical Magazine

‘Meticulously researched and written with endearing humility.’ — Lucy Popescu, New Humanist

‘A timely book amid this pandemic, which has exacerbated the inequities between those that can move and those who can’t. [The Travel Writing Tribe] appears to be the first of its kind aimed at the general reader, and does a comprehensive job of collecting the myriad perspectives already percolating on the subject.’ — Mekong Review

‘[A] lucid and illuminating book.’ — Money Control

‘Much more than a who, what and why of travel writing, Tim Hannigan’s book is a meditation on why we travel and our need to travel and experience other places. Essential reading in the age of lockdown and Instagram.’ — Nicholas Walton, author of Singapore, Singapura and Genoa, ‘La Superba’

‘Is travel writing dead? No, claims Hannigan, as he embarks on an intriguing quest to discuss the genre with its practitioners. His lucid study offers an intelligent and entertaining examination of its key aspects, including authenticity, gender, reception, practices and purpose.’ — Barbara Schaff, Chair of British Literature and Culture, Georg-August University Göttingen, and author of Handbook of British Travel Writing

The Travel Writing Tribe walks the tightrope between travel writing, memoir and essay without skipping a beat. Interrogating a genre long critiqued for exoticizing the Other, Hannigan masterfully and engagingly illustrates how and why travel writing continues to fascinate.’ — Rune Graulund, Associate Professor in the Department for the Study of Culture, University of South Denmark, and co-editor of Postcolonial Travel Writing: Critical Explorations


Tim Hannigan is a writer and academic, and the author of several narrative history books, including A Brief History of Indonesia and the award-winning Raffles and the British Invasion of Java. He holds a PhD from the University of Leicester. He was born in Cornwall and lives in Ireland.

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